CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

M's camp report: Likes and dislikes

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The Mariners moving Ichiro to the three hole in camp should give the 38-year-old time to adjust. (AP)  
The Mariners moving Ichiro to the three hole in camp should give the 38-year-old time to adjust. (AP)  

PEORIA, Ariz. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Mariners:

Likes:

 The prospect of watching new Mariner Jesus Montero grow into ... the next Miguel Cabrera? Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has compared Montero's bat to that of Manny Ramirez, Mike Piazza and, most recently, Cabrera. Was it just hype to goose the trade market? Not according to all sorts of scouts and executives who say the Mariners got a (badly needed) legitimate star hitter. "That's a cool thing to hear," Montero said of Cashman's Cabrera comment. "I heard he said it was the hardest trade he's made. It's a good thing to hear. Wow."

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 Excellent move by the Mariners not only to bump Ichiro Suzuki, 38, out of the leadoff spot after he began showing signs of age last year, but to definitively make the decision early in camp. That allows Ichiro, who has widened his stance this spring in an attempt to come back strong in 2012, time to prepare for a change in thinking/approach in the three hole. And it should provide an emotional boost to Chone Figgins, who has a chance to return to the leadoff spot in which he excelled in Anaheim in 2009. And credit to Ichiro for coming to camp in good shape, stronger and saying all the right things about the move despite the fact that it's surely a blow to his pride. "We know he's a tremendous competitor and a guy who prepares himself better than anybody," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "I think he's done that this winter. He's had his 200-hit streak stopped, that's an absolute sensational accomplishment that he accomplished. ... We're looking forward to seeing how this thing plays out."

 I don't know if Figgins can play anymore. The past two years have raised serious questions. But I do know that the Mariners are going to find out once and for all by offering him the chance to win the leadoff slot this spring. He's got two years left on a four-year, $36 million deal that has been a huge bust so far. Manager Eric Wedge believes Figgins can "get back to his old self" hitting leadoff, getting on base and scoring runs. I like that the Mariners at least are giving themselves -- and Figgins -- an honest (and what surely is a last) chance to do that.

 Felix Hernandez is still just 26. He didn't win a second consecutive Cy Young Award last year, but he still threw five complete games (second in the AL) and whiffed 222 (4th). Opponents began attacking him by swinging more often at the first pitch: According to Baseball Prospectus, opponents' OPS on his first pitch was 400 points higher in 2011 than it was during his Cy 2010 season. But after the first pitch, opponents hit just .216/.287/.284.

 Seattle's collection of talented players in the 27-and-under range, both projected on the 25-man roster and rising with a bullet in the minors: Second baseman Dustin Ackley (24), Montero (22), first baseman Justin Smoak (25), outfielder Mike Carp (26), infielder Kyle Seager (24), outfielder Tayvon Robinson (24), center fielder Casper Wells (27), RHP Blake Beavan (23), LHP Charlie Furbush (26), Hernandez (26), LHP James Paxton (23), RHP Chance Ruffin (23), RHP Taijuan Walker (19), LHP Danny Hultzen (22) and LHP James Paxton (23). Short of a miracle, the M's are not going to contend this year. But they're definitely headed in the right direction.

Dislikes:

 Remember that ancient joke, that Michael Jackson and the Dodgers both wore a glove on one hand for no apparent reason? Well, same answer to why Safeco Field contains a home plate. After scoring only 513 runs two seasons ago -- ignominiously becoming the lowest-scoring team since the advent of the DH in 1972 -- the Mariners bumped that up to a grand total of 556 last year. That ranked 30th in the majors for a second consecutive season. Theoretically, with Montero's bat, a healthy Smoak, maybe even a slight bounce-back year from Ichiro (and, dare I say it, Figgins) ... maybe the Mariners could climb up to, say, 24th or 25th in the majors?

 The flip side of having an impressive and growing collection of kids, as mentioned above? They're still kids, no matter how you slice it. There will be growing pains, though, for Seattle's sake, hopefully not the kind that combined with injuries to produce that horrific 17-game losing streak last year. A total of 18 different players made their major-league debuts last year. "Now they're not going to walk into a major-league ballpark where they've never been before and be awed by it," Zduriencik says. "They might be awed by some of the players on the other team. ... It was tough. We bit the bullet last year and paid the price. You had to get through that. You had to go through it to get guys to come out the other end. We're still very young. This thing won't happen overnight. But I do think that we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

 Even if the Mariners are improved, the two-time defending champ Rangers and the Angels keep getting stronger. Both Texas and Los Angeles are backing roster strength with financial muscle, which will make life very difficult for Seattle until the kids grow up. "You know what they're doing," GM Zduriencik says. "You'd have to be blind not to see what they just did. What the Angels and certainly what Texas has accomplished over the last couple of years. But, we have set this thing in motion to try to build from within, accumulate as much talent as we can, draft and scout well, and we have to do what we have to do. As much as you're aware of what they do, you cannot be reactionary. They're going to have good results. They should, barring injuries or anything unforeseen. But we have to stay the course. We'll have our day in the sun."

 Not sure that, at 37, RHP Kevin Millwood has much left. But he did pitch well in Cleveland under manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis. Maybe, reunited with them, he can bottle the flashes he showed late last season in Colorado (4-3, 3.98 in nine starts) and surprise some folks.

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